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On the Pathos of Truth 1 


Is fame actually nothing but the tastiest morsel of our self-love? Yet 
the eager desire for it has been linked to the rarest of men and to their 
rarest moments. These are moments of sudden illumination, moments 
in which the person stretches out his commanding arm as if to create a 
universe, draws up light from within himself and shines forth. At such a 
moment he is pierced by a certainty which fills him with happiness, the 
certainty that that which exalted him and carried him into the farthest 
regions—and thus the height of this unique feeling—should not be al¬ 
lowed to remain withheld from all posterity. In the eternal need which 
all future generations have for these rarest illuminations such a person 
recognizes the necessity of his own fame. From now on humanity needs 
him. And since this moment of illumination is the epitome and embodi¬ 
ment of his inmost nature, he believes himself to be immortal as the man 
of this moment, while he casts from himself all the other moments of his 
life as dross, decay, vanity, brutishness, or pleonasm and hands them 
over to mortality. 

We observe every passing away and perishing with dissatisfaction, 
often with astonishment, as if we witnessed therein something funda¬ 
mentally impossible. We are displeased when a tall tree breaks, and a 
crumbling mountain distresses us. Every New Year’s Eve enables us to 
feel the mysterious contradiction of being and becoming. But what of¬ 
fends the moral man most of all is the thought that an instant of supreme 
universal perfection should vanish like a gleam of light, as it were, with- 


^he German word Pathos is much more common than its English cognate. In 
addition to the ordinary sense of the English word, it also means “vehemence,” 
“ardor,” “solemnity,” and “fervor.” Nietzsche often uses the word in a manner 
which recalls the original Greek contrast between ethos (the more permanent and 
active character of a person, the universal or objective elements in an experience 
or thing) and pathos (the more transitory and passive experiences, the personal or 
subjective elements of something). Thus an investigation of the “pathos of truth” 
is not an investigation of “truth itself,” but is instead concerned with man’s feelings 
about truth, more specifically, with his pride in the possession of the same. 


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Philosophy and Truth 


out posterity and heirs. His imperative demands rather, that whatever 
once served to propagate more beautifully the concept “man” must be 
eternally present . 2 The fundamental idea of culture is that the great 
moments form a chain, like a chain of mountains which unites mankind 
across the centuries, that the greatest moment of a past age is still great 
for me, and that the prescient faith of those who desire fame will be 
fulfilled. 

Terrible cultural struggle 3 is kindled by the demand that that which is 
great shall be eternal. For everything else that lives exclaims “No!”. The 
customary, the small, and the common fill up all the crannies of the 
world like a heavy atmosphere which we are all condemned to breathe. 
Hindering, suffocating, choking, darkening, and deceiving: it billows 
around what is great and blocks the road which it must travel toward 
immortality. This road leads through human brains—through the brains 
of miserable, short-lived creatures who, ever at the mercy of their re¬ 
stricted needs, emerge again and again to the same trials and with diffi¬ 
culty avert their own destruction for a little time. They desire to live, to 
live a bit at any price. Who could perceive in them that difficult relay 
race by means of which only what is great survives? And yet again and 
again a few persons awaken who feel themselves blessed in regard to that 
which is great, as if human life were a glorious thing and as if the most 
beautiful fruit of this bitter plant is the knowledge that someone once 
walked proudly and stoically through this existence, while another 
walked through it in deep thoughtfulness and a third with compassion. 
But they all bequeathed one lesson: that the person who lives life most 
beautifully is the person who does not esteem it. Whereas the common 
man takes this span of being with such gloomy seriousness, those on 
their journey to immortality knew how to treat it with Olympian laugh¬ 
ter, or at least with lofty disdain. Often they went to their graves 
ironically—for what was there in them to bury? 

The boldest knights among these addicts of fame, those who believe 
that they will discover their coat of arms hanging on a constellation, must 
be sought among the philosophers . Their efforts are not dependent upon 
a “public,” upon the excitation of the masses and the cheering applause 
of contemporaries . 4 It is their nature to wander the path alone. Their 


2 The passage beginning with this sentence and continuing through the last 
sentence of the next paragraph is almost identical to one in UBb , 2. 

*Kampf (= “struggle,” “battle,” “fight”). This term occurs very frequently in 
Nietzsche’s early writings, one of the most constant themes of which is that 
struggle may be understood as something positive and creative. For Nietzsche’s 
most sustained explication of this idea, see HW . 

4 The passage beginning with this sentence and continuing through this and 
the following two paragraphs is almost identical to one in PtZG, 8. 



On the Pathos of Truth 


63 


talent is the rarest and in a certain respect most unnatural in nature , 5 
even shutting itself off from and hostile towards similar talents. The wall 
of their self-sufficiency must be made of diamond if it is not to be 
demolished and shattered. For everything in man and nature is on the 
move against them. Their journey towards immortality is more difficult 
and impeded than any other, and yet no one can be more confident than 
the philosopher that he will reach his goal. Because the philosopher 
knows not where to stand, if not on the extended wings of all ages. For it 
is the nature of philosophical reflection to disregard the present and 
momentary. He possesses the truth: let the wheel of time roll where it 
will, it will never be able to escape from the truth. 

It is important to discover that such men once lived, for one would 
never be able to imagine on his own, as an idle possibility, the pride of 
the wise Heraclitus (who may serve as our example). For by its nature 
every striving for knowledge seems intrinsically unsatisfied and unsatis¬ 
fying. Therefore, unless he has been instructed to the contrary by his¬ 
tory, no one will be able to imagine such regal self-esteem, such bound¬ 
less conviction that one is the sole fortunate wooer of truth. Men of this 
sort live within their own solar system, and that is where they must be 
sought. Even a Pythagoras and an Empedocles treated themselves with 
superhuman respect, indeed, with an almost religious awe. But they 
were led back to other men and to their salvation by the bond of sym¬ 
pathy, coupled with the great conviction concerning the transmigration 
of souls and the unity of all living things. But only in the wildest 
mountain wasteland, while growing numb from the cold, can one sur¬ 
mise to some extent the feeling of loneliness which permeated the her¬ 
mit of the Ephesian temple of Artemis . 6 No overwhelming feeling of 
sympathetic excitement emanates from him, no desire to help and to 
save. He is like a star without an atmosphere. His burning eye is directed 
inward; from without it looks dead and frigid, as if it looked outward 
merely for appearances’ sake. On all sides the waves of illusion and folly 
beat directly against the fortress of his pride, while he turns away in 
disgust. But even tender hearted men shun such a tragic mask. Such a 
being might seem more comprehensible in a remote shrine, among im- 


5 See below PB, 46. 

6 The “hermit” referred to here is Heraclitus of Ephesus. Artemis was the 
Ephesian diety and her temple (the Artemison) was situated on a lonely plain 
some distance from the city itself. According to Diogenes Laertius, Heraclitus 
was requested by the Ephesians to provide them with laws, but “he scorned the 
request because the state was already in the grip of a bad constitution. He would 
retire to the temple of Artemis,” until finally “he became a hater of his kind and 
wandered on the mountains, and there he continued to live, making his diet of 
grass and herbs.” Lives of Eminent Philosophers , trans. R.D. Hicks (Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 1926), IX, 3. 



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Philosophy and Truth 


ages of the gods and amidst cold, sublime architecture. As a man among 
men Heraclitus was incredible. And if he was perhaps observed while 
watching the games of noisy children , 7 he had in any case been ponder¬ 
ing something never before pondered by a mortal on such an occasion, 
viz., the play of the great world-child, Zeus, and the eternal game of 
world destruction and origination. He had no need for men, not even 
for the purposes of his knowledge. He was not at all concerned with 
anything that one might perhaps ascertain from them or with what other 
wise men before him struggled to ascertain. “It was myself which I 
sought and explored ,” 8 he said, using words which signified the fathom¬ 
ing of an oracle—as if he and no one else were the true fulfiller and 
accomplisher of the Delphic maxim, “know thyself.” 

But what he heard in this oracle he presented as immortal wisdom, 
eternally worthy of interpretation in the sense in which the prophetic 
speeches of the sibyl are immortal. It is sufficient for the most distant 
generations: may they interpret it only as the sayings of an oracle—as 
Heraclitus, as the Delphic god himself “neither speaks nor conceals .” 9 
Although Heraclitus proclaims his wisdom “without laughter, without 
ornaments and scented ointments,” but rather, as it were, “with foaming 
mouth,” it must penetrate thousands of years into the future . 10 Since the 
world forever requires truth, it requires Heraclitus forever, though he 
does not require the world. What does his fame matter to him\ “Fame 
among mortals who are continually passing away!” as he scornfully proc¬ 
laims . 11 Fame is something for minstrels and poets and for those who 
were known as “wise” before him. Let them gulp down this tastiest 


7 Diogenes’ story continues: “He would retire to the temple of Artemis and play 
at knuckle-bones with the boys; and when the Ephesians stood round him and 
looked on, ‘Why, you rascals,’ he said, ‘are you astonished? Is it not better to do 
this than to take part in your civil life?’ ” Lives, IX, 3. CF. also Frag. 52 of 
Heraclitus: “Time is a child playing a game of draughts; the kingship is in the 
hands of a child.” Translation by Kathleen Freeman, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic 
Philosophers (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), p. 31. 

8 “He was exceptional from his boyhood; for when a youth he used to say that 
he knew nothing, although when he was grown up he claimed that he knew 
everything. He was nobody’s pupil, but he declared that he ‘inquired of himself,’ 
and learned everything from himself.” Diogenes Laertius, Lives, IX, 5. Cf. also 
Frag. 101. 

9 “The lord whose oracle is that at Delphi neither speaks nor conceals, but 
indicates.” Heraclitus, Frag. 93. 

10 “The Sibyl with raving mouth uttering her unlaughing, unadorned, unin¬ 
censed words reaches Over a thousand years with her voice, through the (inspira¬ 
tion of the) god.” Heraclitus, Frag. 92. 

11 Frag. 29. 



On the Pathos of Truth 


65 


morsel of their self-love; the fare is too common for him. His fame 
matters to men, not to him. His self-love is love of truth, and it is this 
truth which tells him that the immortality of humanity requires him, not 
that he requires the immortality of the man Heraclitus. 

Truth! Rapturous illusion of a god! What does truth matter to men! 

And what was the Heraclitean “truth”! 

And where has it gone! A vanished dream which has been erased from 
mankind’s countenance by other dreams! It was hardly the first! 

Regarding everything which we call by the proud metaphors “world 
history” and “truth” and “fame,” a heartless spirit might have nothing to 
say except: 

“Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe 
which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a 
star upon which clever beasts invented knowing . 12 It was the most arrog¬ 
ant and mendacious minute of world history, but nevertheless only a 
minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star cooled and sol¬ 
idified, and the clever beasts had to die. The time had come too, for 
although they boasted of how much they had understood, in the end 
they discovered to their great annoyance that they had understood ev¬ 
erything falsely. They died, and in dying they cursed truth. Such was the 
nature of these desperate beasts who had invented knowing.” 

This would be man’s fate if he were nothing but a knowing animal. 
The truth would drive him to despair and destruction: the truth that he 
is eternally condemned to untruth. But all that is appropriate for man is 
belief in attainable truth, in the illusion which draws near to man and 
inspires him with confidence. Does he not actually live by means of a 
continual process of deception? Does nature not conceal most things 
from him, even the nearest things—his own body, for example, of which 
he has only a deceptive “consciousness ”? 13 He is locked within this con¬ 
sciousness and nature threw away the key. Oh, the fatal curiosity of the 
philosopher, who longs, just once, to peer out and down through a crack 
in the chamber of consciousness. Perhaps he will then suspect the extent 
to which man, in the indifference of his ignorance, is sustained by what is 
greedy, insatiable, disgusting, pitiless, and murderous—as if he were 
hanging in dreams on the back of a tiger. 

“Let him hang!” cries art. “Wake him up!” shouts the philosopher in 
the pathos of truth. Yet even while he believes himself to be shaking the 
sleeper, the philosopher himself is sinking into a still deeper magical 


12 This and the following two sentences are identical to the opening sentences 
of WL. 

13 The passage beginning with this sentence and continuing through the end of 
this paragraph is almost identical to one in the third paragraph of WL> 1. 



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Philosophy and Truth 


slumber. Perhaps he then dreams of the “ideas” or of immortality. Art is 
more powerful than knowledge, because it desires life, whereas knowl¬ 
edge attains as its final goal only—annihilation . 14 


14 Compare this conclusion concerning the ultimately nihilistic goal of pure 
knowledge with the more elaborate presentation of the same conclusion by 
Nietzsche fifteen years later in the Third Essay of GM.